BY TERRENCE ROBINSON
When the public hearing on Mayor Byron Brown’s attempt to remove Joseph Mascia as Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA) commissioner concluded December 30, 2015, the City of Buffalo had 60 days to present a transcript of the proceedings for the hearing officer’s review. A transcript was prepared, and it was submitted to both parties on January 7, 2016.
Renowned local civil rights attorney, Steven Cohen, had repeatedly threatened during the course of the two week hearing to make the transcript available to the general public. Mr. Cohen felt that the public should have an opportunity to review the proceedings that were held in the closely guarded city court during the week prior to Christmas and the week prior to New Year’s Day.
A review of the transcript will show the contentious nature of the legal wrangling that continued throughout the hearing. It will also reveal that a number of the City’s most important witnesses failed to testify.
The transcript will reveal other discrepancies in the city’s prosecution, including an amazing revelation that the City had previously obtained an Order signed by the Hon. John F. O’Donnell. The Order granted summary dismissal of an Article 78 Special Proceeding filed by Commissioner Mascia. That Article 78 proceeding challenged the appointment by Mayor Byron Brown of 5 BMHA Board members. That same BMHA Board initiated disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Mascia, and then referred the matter to Mayor Byron Brown.
The charges, initially filed by the BMHA Ethics Committee (the only charges ever brought by that body), were the basis for the dubious proceedings that culminated in the public hearing for Commissioner Mascia’s removal. The City, up to the point of its disclosure on December 29th, had failed to serve the May 27th Order on Commissioner Mascia or provide any notice of its existence, keeping it secret.
Marcia’s Article 78 lawsuit against Mayor Brown and the City of Buffalo Common Council was filed on February 27, 2015. That was a week prior to the secretly recorded private conversation that was alleged to contain racial slurs deprecating the Mayor’s appointees and local African-American officials.
It was this recording that serves as justification for the Mayor’s removal action against Mascia. Apparently there were two segments of the recording, each about six and a half minutes long. The recording was delivered to BMHA at or about the time that the Buffalo News published a story on July 22, 2015, revealing a 15 second excerpt of offensive language.
In the first segment of the recording, Mascia is engaged in a telephone conversation discussing the lawsuit, Freedom of Information requests, and allegedly corrupt practices at BMHA. The second segment of the recording continues in a similar vein with Mascia eventually responding to queries by his interrogator where Mascia uses the word nigger to identify a list of persons that the individual names. One of those persons is Michael Seaman, an Italian-American who serves as Chairman of the BMHA Board. Mascia vilifies Mayor Byron Brown, Council President Darius Pridgen, N.Y. State Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett, and Leonard Williams, a former BMHA Commissioner.
The recording(s) was purportedly made on or about March 9, 2015, by Paul Christopher, Mascia’s employer at the time. Mascia and Christopher had known each other for a period of about 30 years. There was no testimony as to the length or nature of the recording allegedly made in secret on a 4 hour ride to Albany, N.Y. There was no testimony regarding any modifications, alterations, or editing of the recording. There was no testimony as to when or how BMHA obtained its version of the recordings. Paul Christopher did not appear to testify.
Frank Messiah, president of the local chapter of the NAACP did not appear to testify, so it is uncertain how he came to hear the version of the recording that prompted his letter in support of Commissioner Mascia’s removal. Mr. Messiah and Nate Hare of the CAO provided letters which were read into the record of the BMHA Board meeting on July 23, 2015, within hours after the News’ public disclosure.
Though closely related to the questionable authority to conduct the removal proceedings, we will discuss the exceptional circumstances of Commissioner Mascia’s Article 78 Proceeding against the Mayor and Common Council in a later edition of this chronicle.
That discussion will include the tale of the hand delivery of the city’s response two days prior to the April 9th Article 78 hearing, other procedural irregularities, and Judge O’Donnell’s extraordinary legal reasoning in support of the Mayor’s defense. As to the absolutely twisted nature of the public removal hearing, the specious nature of the underlying charges and specifications, and the testimony adduced therein – we will save those matters for the next edition of this chronicle.
This article also appears in Buffalo Planet.